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The Rife Team

A Walk Around Bristol’s Secret Garden 

Molly takes a trip to one of Bristol’s beautiful and secretive green spaces

The 1993 film adaptation of The Secret Garden was one of my absolute favourites as a child. The wild and overgrown walled garden captured my imagination, and I’ve always loved naturalistic gardens as a result! The peace and quiet that you get from spending time in outdoor spaces is unrivalled for me. And even though I’m sad to be saying goodbye to autumn, I also love winter and the abundance of drama and interest that this time of year brings into gardens, parks and woodlands. 

Although I love formal gardens, there is something particularly special to me about a place that feels slightly lost in time. Where ivy has overtaken stone walls, trees have grown to gargantuan sizes and wildlife skitters away manically as if surprised anyone has found their refuge. This is what you can expect from an early morning visit to Bishop’s Knoll on the outskirts of Sneed Park. 

I’d never heard of Bishop’s Knoll before when a friend invited me on a walk there, and when I looked it up I was immediately interested. The site is steeped in history, and is currently being restored by the Woodland Trust and a team of volunteers from the Friends of Bishops Knoll Wood. According to the Woodland Trust’s website, it was first recorded as a medieval deer park gifted by Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries to Sir Ralph Sadler over 450 years ago. 

In the late nineteenth century a large manor house called The Knoll was built on the site. A series of terraced gardens, an orchard, an arboretum and a network of pleasure paths were created alongside it. During the First World War the house was used as a hospital for Australian soldiers, as it was at the time, owned by a wealthy Australian man. The house was demolished in the 70s and blocks of flats now sit where it once was, but the skeleton of the gardens remains in place and they are being gradually restored. 

As you step off the residential streets and into the woodland, you suddenly feel miles away from suburbia. Narrow trails wind through the woodland, leading you to the brickwork that once formed the terraced gardens. This part of the wood is my favourite, as you can walk along the balustrade and look down onto the tangle of trees and scrub below. Autumn is a particularly good time of year to visit Bishop’s Knoll. Not only are there beautiful trees in the woods themselves, including a spectacular oak that is thought to be several hundred years old, but you also have a lovely view across the gorge. On the other side of the Avon lies Leigh Woods, and from this side of the river you get a wonderful snapshot of the patchwork of colours as the leaves begin to change. 

Wandering through the woods, take the time to look closely at the trees and features around you. I love small details in landscapes like this. If you take your time, you’ll notice vines twisting around the old brickwork, ferns growing out of cracks in the stairs and acorns littering the pathways. By asking yourself to notice the things around you, you’ll become better at staying present. For me, this is really important; walking mindfully helps to keep me grounded. Many of the trees in the arboretum are also labelled, so you might even learn a little something while you’re at it!

This walk can also be incorporated into a few longer loops for those hoping for a bit more exercise. Being right on the edge of Old Sneed Park Nature Reserve, you can easily incorporate this into your visit. The Nature Reserve boasts a beautiful lake and is very peaceful. If you drop down all of the terraces and walk under the railway line you can wander out into Bennet’s Patch and White’s Paddock Nature Reserve, where you can check out the wicker whale sculptures. This is amazing in late summer when the wild flowers are blooming. From here you can make your way to Blaise Castle Estate via Sea Mills, which makes for a lovely afternoons hike. 

Don’t let the change in seasons get you down! It’s time to get out and explore, and see what Bristol has to offer at a different time of year!

Do you have any more suggestions for walks that might persuade us to get out this winter? Let us know in the comments.